Above: David Webber speaking at the EACD panel discussion on Employer branding in the Brussels bubble: What can communicators do to attract talent for their organisations?

The EU has experienced its ups and downs over the years, but its popularity as a brand amongst prospective employees shows no signs of abating. How can public affairs organisations in Brussels attract the best talent, and what are the challenges in finding the most suitable candidates? Following the EACD regional event on 30 January in Brussels, we spoke to David Webber of Odgers Berndtson about the challenges unique to public sector recruitment and his own career path.

What skills do leaders in public affairs need?

Public affairs leaders are multi-faceted and multi-talented and come from many different backgrounds. Importantly, and unlike some other professions, past success is not a guarantee for the future and strategy replication does not always deliver the same result or impact. The most effective public affairs professionals think like chess players, they plan the ‘winning’ move and track back from there. They need to be agile and open in their thinking as well as inventive, innovative and brave – being risk averse does not work. Increasingly they need to have a better grasp and understanding of the business dynamics of their organisation to be able to engage at the executive level and demonstrate the significant added value that an integrated public affairs strategy can have to the corporate bottom line. Once business executives are convinced of the need for public affairs investment there needs to be business like measurement and reporting of impact – this is a major issue as many of the benefits are difficult to assess metrically. This is where communications are essential since if the business leaders (and other stakeholders) feel that they are part of the journey then they have a better understanding of the intangible benefits of the actions – these can include social and political partnerships, increased internal and external collaboration, employee buy in, culture change and reputation.

Why did you decide to make the change from public affairs consultancy to public affairs executive search?

In 2014 after more than 20 years in public affairs I took up the opportunity to lead the public affairs and communication practice at Odgers Berndtson, a global executive search firm. There were numerous reasons for this career change, the most important was to challenge myself – something I strongly promote to my candidates today. I also made the change since I saw a growing demand for public affairs professionals and leaders across many sectors as well as difficulty in the understanding of this skill set. Many of my clients are new to this world (especially at senior level) and uncertain of what actual skills and qualities are required to achieve their specific goals – this is where we work closely together to define a job brief and process that will attract the best fit candidates.

You are chair of the Human Resources Committee for the American Chamber of Commerce in Belgium. How can communications heads better work with their human relations counterparts on successful employee branding projects?

As chair of the Human Resources Committee for the American Chamber of Commerce in Belgium we have been active on the issue of employer branding for both attracting and retaining the right talent. There is a critical need for communication and HR heads to come together to coordinate and develop an impactful employee value proposition. In today’s increasingly high-employment environment, employers are competing for the best candidates rather than the candidates competing for the best jobs and employers are competing for the millennial generation –who care deeply about how a company behaves publicly and privately. How organisations communicate and operationalise their diversity and inclusion strategies will be vital in the so called ‘War for Talent’.

David Webber heads the EU Affairs Practice in Odgers Berndtson’s Brussels office. He has placed leaders as well as government and communication directors in corporates, trade associations, not-for-profits and international organisations. Before becoming a headhunter, David provided regulatory and political support to numerous organisations as a public affairs professional with experience in the energy, finance, transport, biotech, digital and life sciences industries. Currently, he chairs the Human Resources Committee of the American Chamber of Commerce.